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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How to Choose a Vacation Rental By Owner Property

Recently I spent a moms’ weekend in another city. With six in our group, decided to rent rooms in an inn – going the rental by owner route. And we hated our rental.

How can you avoid the mistakes we made?

How the services work
You’ve probably heard of - or maybe even used - services like Airbnb or VRBO (vacation by owner). There are a handful of companies that act as a listing service for these owner rentals (the one we used isn’t mentioned in this posting).
Owners list their property at no cost. They upload a profile and photos, and pay the service a fee per booking.
Each agency has its own vetting process. That does not usually include a site visit.
Airbnb says it verifies its owners’ identification by “connecting to their social networks and scanning their official ID or confirming personal details.” That’s not verification that the property is what they say it is.
Renters search the site by location and date. Depending on the service used, there may be a booking fee in addition to the rental fee (plus a security deposit and cleaning fee). When you find a place you like, you can either immediately book it on the site, or contact the owner with questions first. 
Tips for renting by owner:
--Always contact the owner! Are they responsive? Do they have a lot of information to share? You can get a good sense of what the rental might be like from a conversation. We didn’t do this. Big mistake.
--What’s included? Make sure you know if you need to bring your own linens and towels. Do you need toiletries?
--Who else will be staying there? At our rental, we thought we were supposed to be the only guests. We weren’t. And someone outside our group took a shower in the shared bathroom at 2 a.m., waking us up. Not fun!
--Ask about security. Our rental included several rooms in a house. It turns out the rooms didn’t have locks, which meant anyone staying there could enter the room at any time. No one was comfortable leaving valuables behind. Plus, we didn’t feel safe, since we didn’t know who else was staying there. And we also wouldn’t like traveling with our kids, with no locks on the door.
--Get detailed information about the location and parking. If you’re in a city, is there convenient parking? Is parking extra? Is there street parking and would you need a permit or need to move your car during your stay? How close are you to public transportation?
--Do you have allergies? Find out if the owner has/allows pets, smokes or there’s mold in the house. While the owner may not be forthcoming, it’s worth asking. In our rental, the owner said the inn was nonsmoking, however it turns out that she smoked in the house. And on the listing, one of the six rooms allows smoking. Smoke from that room (located underneath ours), smelled up the entire house.

Read reviews. Here was our biggest mistake. Our rental had no reviews. I will no longer rent from a place without detailed – and current - reviews. Sites often verify that the person giving the review actually booked/stayed there, to prevent fraudulent reviews.

Here’s the problem – the site had multiple glitches when it came to posting my review. If a renter like me spends 30 minutes writing a review and has posting issues, they’re not going to continue reviewing properties.

Some owners post their rentals on several agencies, so do a search of the property to see if it comes up elsewhere.

If you’re not satisfied
The agencies usually offer some type of property guarantee. Find out what that is before booking. If you’re not satisfied with your rental, you should first discuss it with the owner. You can go to the agency after, but their options are more limited. In our case, when we complained to the agency, they told us to write reviews on the site. While they said they’d look into the issues we mentioned (light switches with no covers, shared bathrooms when the agency required private bathrooms, an uncleaned bathroom, an extension cord hanging inches from the shower, a nonsmoking inn where the owner smoked, etc.), we don’t trust that they will.
I will continue to rent from VRBO, where we’ve always had good rentals. And I will follow all my own tips. There are great properties out there to rent. You just need to do your research! 
A version of this post originally appeared on Mommy Nearest.

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